18 October 2023

COVID-19: Increased case prevalence and mask wearing

Due to the increasing case prevalence of COVID-19, some local public health authorities are now asking practices to review their mask-wearing guidance.

We are aware that public health authorities in the NHS England, Midlands region have asked local healthcare providers, including optometry practices, to review their mask wearing guidance following a significant local increase in COVID-19 cases and related staff absences. This means all local healthcare providers should undertake a practice-based risk assessment and consider reinstating universal masking for staff, patients and visitors as an enhanced infection prevention and control measure.

Please ensure your practice is prepared so you have sufficient levels of PPE, including face masks for patients, to enable your practice to continue to provide eye care safely, should similar guidance be issued in your area. This is in line with section B39c of the Guidance for Professional Practice, where optometrists should continue to wear a fluid resistance surgical face mask (FRSM) where there is a public health requirement to wear one.

Other areas in the UK may receive similar guidance from their local public health authorities (health protection teams, medical or nursing directors) over the coming months. You should implement universal masking if your risk assessment indicates it is a necessary infection control measure to protect against droplet and airborne transmission and reduce spread of infection; based on local COVID-19 case prevalence or any new circulating SARS-CoV-2 variant of concern.

COVID-19 continues to be a serious disease with new variants and waves predicted to continue in the future. While mask wearing is a key measure to help reduce the spread of respiratory infections, it is important to also maintain high standards of infection prevention and control in line with your nation's National Infection Prevention and Control Manual (NIPCM) and our Guidance for Professional Practice. This includes good hand hygiene; appropriate equipment, surface and environmental decontamination and keeping up to date with recommended immunisations.

Related further reading

For the very last issue of Optometry in Practice, Professor Jonathan Jackson MCOptom reflects on the past two decades of the journal and its contribution to our learning.

This paper describes how viruses infect, reproduce and damage cells. Knowing this process is critical for understanding how to treat ocular viral infections.